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Historical Tripos - overview

For detailed information about the undergraduate course, please follow the links on the navigation menu. 

Overview of the Historical Tripos

The Cambridge history course is unusual for its breadth and depth of coverage. In your first and second years (Part I) you have the chance to choose from seven periods of European history from 776BC to the present and five periods of British history since 380AD. You study British history in particular depth, taking separate papers in Political and in Economic & Social history. The Faculty also offers introductory courses in world history, American history and the history of Political Thought at Part I – in each case there are two separate papers allowing students to begin to specialise in these fields before their final year. All these courses are taught through a mix of Faculty lectures and weekly supervisions organised by your college, and are assessed by written examination at the end of your second year. But you will also study one of approximately a dozen ‘Themes and Sources’ courses at Part I. These courses are based around a body of set texts (usually both primary and secondary). They are taught through Faculty classes and assessed through a coursework essay rather than an examination.

Because it is one of the largest and most renowned history departments in the world, the Faculty is able to combine breadth of coverage with a rich choice of research-led courses at Part II. Here courses take two forms: ‘Special Subjects’, intensively taught and organised around a tightly-defined body of primary sources, and ‘Specified Subjects’, also often source-led, but more thematic in focus and assessed solely by examination (you will do an extended coursework essay as part of the Special Subject as well as an examination which tests your knowledge of set primary sources). You normally have a choice of up to twenty Specified Subjects (including the Political Thought papers) and between ten and fifteen Special Subjects. Approximately half of all students choose to write a dissertation in place of one of their two Specified papers, and few encounter difficulty securing a qualified supervisor.

Finally, the Faculty also teaches historical practice itself through its extensive programme of lectures and classes on Historical Argument and Practice. This is assessed as part of the ‘preliminary’ examinations taken immediately after Easter in your first year, and again at Part II (where it represents one-fifth of the degree). ‘HAP’, as it is usually known, gives you the chance to develop historiographical interests in themes such as gender, religion or warfare that range widely across time and place. The links from this page explain the Tripos in greater detail. They allow you to see which options are running in particular years, how they will be taught and assessed. You will also find links to useful advice on study skills, as well as to past papers and lecturers’ feedback on teaching and assessment.


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